LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE
Directors: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Screenwriter: Michael Arndt
Executive Producers: Michael Beugg, Jeb Brody
Producers: Marc Turtletaub, Peter Saraf, David Friendly, Ron Yerxa, Albert Berger
Cast: Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Alan Arkin
U.S.A., 2006, 100 min.
*Meet the Hoover family: Olive, a seven-year-old, slightly pudgy, aspiring beauty queen; her father, Richard, a struggling motivational speaker who can't help but push; and her mom, Sheryl, who has to bring her Proust scholar/brother, Frank, home after his failed suicide attempt. Frank has to stay with Sheryl'd Nietzsche-worshipping son, Dwayne, who has taken a vow of silence until he is old enough to be a fighter pilot. Then there's Grandpa, recently kicked out of his nursing home for snorting heroin.
When they are all forced to hop into the old VW bus to take Olive to the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant, this is either a portrait of the most dysfunctional family you've ever seen or the absolutely hilarious tragicomic journey of a family whose lives are in for a change.
That this is a first feature by the directorial team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris is stunning, given the film's level of execution. With an exceptional cast, whose "effortless" performances are pure pleasure, this madcap comedy literally transports a Capraesque lunacy to the present. And like the films of that master of farce, this delicious, abundant, comic storytelling sends up American values even as it draws out the humanity hidden in the most misfit of families.
*Summary by Geoffrey Gilmore, SUNDANCE Film Programmer
This film feels like the perfect, albeit, R-rated family comedy. The writing and performances are just so good, watching a film like this is a treat. It is a light-hearted comedy, even though it deals with serious topics like suicide, death, and addiction. This extremely disfunctional family is never mocked by the screenwriters. The humor comes from observing the lives of these characters with a straight face. Instead of pointing out how ridiculous and funny these people are, the film lets us find that out for ourselves. i like how the humor changed throughout the film, at some points it is situational humor derived from sharp dialogue, at other times it is slapstick, physical comedy. For some reason, one scene where Toni Collette's character tries to explain to a road cop why the horn on her van is malfunctioning, had me crying I was laughing so hard. Something about the hilariously pitiful squeaks coming out of the car horn coupled with the serious expressions on Toni Collette and the cop's faces, just got me going. I feel that there is such a variety of humor in this film, everyone will have a different favorite moment like that.
The performances are all great. I would have liked to see more of Steve Carrell's character, as he kind of fades into the background once the family road trip begins. Gre Kinnear is perfect as the uptight and hopeless father, he really does play these upper-crust characters perfectly. Alan Arkin's grandpa is a crusty delight. And Toni Collette's mother is the glue that tries to hold all these people together. The daughter is also the cutest little girl, she is just a sweetheart.
The finale loses steam, ending in a cliched manner that I have seen in a million other comedies. It's alittle cringe-inducing to see a film that is so fresh and funny fall back on an old comedy standard to end the film. That was dissapointing compared to what had come before. However, this film was picked up for 10.5 million dollars at Sundance, so it will do just fine. It is the kind of comedy that could be very successful, though it will miss the younger crowds with its R-rating. But I think part of what makes it fresh and new is that it is a family road trip comedy that has the guts to be profane and dirty. Light-weight and fun, this film was a pleasure to see.